The New Tribes Airport

In 1991, when New Tribes Mission (NTM) first applied for a private airport in McNeal, the county Planning Department recommended "DISAPPROVAL ... because it is not in the best economic interest of the County to approve another airfield [and is] incompatible with adjacent noise sensitive residentially [sic] uses and subdivided properties."

Judy Anderson, now heading the county Planning Department, wrote those words in one of her first reports as a Department employee.  But the Board Of Supervisors granted a permit.

Ann English, now running for supervisor again, was a supervisor during the '91 vote.  At that time, New Tribes was flying out of Bisbee-Douglas airport, BDI, near where Double Adobe Road runs into US 191.  Unless Ann has changed her address, she was living about 3 miles west of the airport, and planes passed about 2 miles north, and 2 miles south, of her home.  She voted to grant the permit, and now, in McNeal, a typical New Tribes flight is only 3/4 mile from other people's homes, and flights can be as little as 300' from one neighbor.

Late in 2007, New Tribes applied to expand its permit for operations in McNeal.  This time, unlike in 1991, Department staff approved the application, and it passed 7-0 at the Planning & Zoning Commission on January 9 (two commissioners were absent).

I opposed expanding the permit, because in early 2007, New Tribes began violating it by flying a copter, flying planes too often, and flying too near McNeal.  When New Tribes applied for a permit in '91, it promised to be a good neighbor; so in June 2007, as a neighbor, I met with New Tribes about their violations, and offered New Tribes space on this website to state their own case.  They declined, but the violations decreased -- for a while.  Meanwhile, having declined to act as a good neighbor, New Tribes went to the county Planning Department.


At our meeting in June '07, New Tribes argued that its permit allowed copters because they are single-engine craft.  New Tribes's argument was silly, and when New Tribes took it to the county, the county too disagreed with it.
    -- Copters are loud, choppy, booming, pounding -- much more intrusive than airplanes.  The New Tribes copters make life miserable for my friends the Bohmfalks, who moved into their home, right next to what is now New Tribes, long before New Tribes came to McNeal.

At the P&Z Commission meeting in January 2008, I added:
    -- New Tribes copters are risky.  On November 23, 2007, a New Tribes pilot in New Guinea crashed and destroyed his copter (he's safe).  He was flying with a fuel drum dangling from the copter on a cable, and the cable snagged a landing skid.  The pilot just said this happened "somehow."  But if a trained New Tribes pilot doesn't see how a cable with a heavy weight can snag a metal rod under a copter, why should New Tribes student training be allowed in a residential area?
    -- I asked if jet copters are next.  New Tribes said, Probably yes, and they're somewhat louder than the copter that New Tribes was flying without a permit.  And New Tribes wants more than one copter; it got permission for two.
    -- Other local airports have opened up space since the staff report.

But no one on the Commission asked any questions about safety.

Airplanes -- the number of planes and flights

In 1991, the Planning Department memo opposing the airport included the following:
    "Four (4) small single and twin engine planes are ... estimated to make six (6) flights each per day Monday through Friday....
    "3.  [The applicant] estimates that these aircraft will each fly about six (6) flights per day Monday through Friday for a total of about 24 flights."

During the '91 Board meeting, those numbers kept shifting.  The Department "said up to 10 flights a day were planned but [New Tribes] said there might be as few as one a day," according to the Douglas Dispatch.  Eventually, the permit allowed six planes, and according to the minutes, New Tribes said, in order to get a permit, that
"the planes are estimated to make six (6) flights each per day Monday through Friday."

But in 2007 New Tribes sometimes made 10-12 flights per hour, from before 8 'til after noon.  Imagine the effect of this repetition on a realtor showing a house, or on a B&B owner, or on a person trying to sleep through chronic pain, or on someone who just wants country quiet.

In our informal meeting in June 2007, and in the lobby after the Commission vote in January 2008, New Tribes argued that there was no actual limit of flights to six flights per plane per day.  That's disingenuous.  If the '91 permit didn't specifically restrict flights to six per plane per day, that was because the Board didn't see a need to restrict New Tribes from doing what New Tribes said it would not do.  New Tribes is arguing that its promises mean nothing.

Airplanes -- the direction of flights

New Tribes flights are occasionally due west toward McNeal.  But in '91, New Tribes promised to avoid NcNeal, and fly over the open areas east, north, and south of the New Tribes airport.  Those are the flight patterns on the New Tribes map, and the permit is for those patterns, "weather permitting."
    -- At our informal meeting in June 2007, New Tribes quibbled that a breeze as low as 2 mph is "weather" enough for planes to ignore the flight plans and take off directly toward McNeal.  Such a breeze almost always exists, so in effect, New Tribes believes it can ignore the approved flight plans whenever it wants.
    -- At the January 2008 meeting, a couple of New Tribes supporters said they always correct their students who fly near McNeal -- which is an admission by New Tribes that its students do fly too near McNeal.  Yet one commissioner, famous for asking "why should the Commission reward a person who has been violating a permit?", did not ask that question.  In fact, none of the Commissioners followed up this issue.

At our meeting in June 2007, New Tribes even claimed that it could take off directly toward McNeal, on a runway which the New Tribes map doesn't even show.  New Tribes said it could do this because the permit allows whatever it doesn't forbid.  This should be the law, but anyone who has argued the point with the Cochise County Planning Department knows that the Department maintains it is not presently the law.

New Tribes flights may be extra risky.  In 1993, New Tribes planes were reportedly flying directly over McNeal Elementary School; after some complaints, that stopped.  In 2007, I saw a New Tribes plane make a series of practice landings that cleared the utility wires on Davis Road by barely 20'.  I mentioned this informally after the 2008 vote; New Tribes did not acknowledge that the risky technique is out of place on a public road.

One Commissioner asked if New Tribes planes could not have identification painted on them which would be clearly visible from the ground.  Then, planes committing permit violations could be clearly identified.  New Tribes answered that all other aircraft are clearly identified, so New Tribes planes could be recognized because they were the ones without identification.
    -- Lack of visible and specific identification makes it hard to prove that a particular New Tribes plane was committing a violation.
    -- And, this close to this border, it is probably not a good idea for small planes to fly without clear identification.

Public support

At the Commission meeting in January 2008, the Department reported 17 letters of support for expanding the permit, and only 6 letters opposed.  However, most of the support was from New Tribes employees or their families.  The Department said nothing (nor did any Commissioner) about the possibility that people who depend on New Tribes might be biased in favor of it.

One letter of support was from our friends and neighbors Ray and Kay Squires.  They wrote that they were not bothered by New Tribes.  Of course not; they moved back to Michigan before the recent violations began.  Also, Kay is the sister of Paul Dye, who is with New Tribes.  The Commission did not say anything about the problems with this letter of support.


At the informal meeting in the lobby after the '08 vote, I talked with several New Tribes people, and made sure they understood that I'm NOT criticizing them as individuals.  But an organization is separate from its people.  New Tribes has a mission, and the mission comes first.  Surely, nobody at New Tribes would, for private purposes, make life miserable for a neighbor; but for the organization, anything is allowed.  For instance, as I drove to my June 2007 meeting with New Tribes, a New Tribes plane was circling just north of town, roughly 300' up; but at the meeting, New Tribes denied any knowledge of what I had just seen.  That person wouldn't have denied facts for his own sake, but for New Tribes, the mission justified it.

Having a mission isn't a good excuse for harming your neighbors.  The New Tribes organization shouldn't be harming its neighbors in McNeal to support its mission in New Guinea or anywhere.  But New Tribes has been harming its neighbors by breaking its promises and violating its permit.  Helicopters are unacceptable near homes, and as to airplanes, why enlarge a permit which New Tribes habitually violates?

At the January 2008 Commission meeting, I said early in my statement that "I oppose expanding" New Tribes's permit, but the Commission talked as if it were being asked to choose between expanding the permit, and abolishing it.  That was not a choice that I suggested.  My hope was that the Commission would put off a decision on the merits, until New Tribes had proven over time that it would obey its permit.  My fear now is that New Tribes will abuse the expanded permit just as it abused the original permit.

(An earlier version of this dispute is at  )